Painting Articles & Resources

Picking a Color

Richmond Bisque… Deep Russet… Hickory…
The names are enough to make your head spin. Choosing a paint color becomes even more baffling when you consider that most homes use at least three different shades — one for the siding and two or more for trim and accents such as doors, railings and window sashes.

A well-chosen selection of contrasting trim and accent colors can draw attention to architectural details and disguise design flaws. A poor selection can make a house seem flat and featureless — Or so garish that the color overwhelms the architecture. But, how do you decide?

Here are a few pointers to guide you as you choose house paint colors.

Neighborhood Context
A fluorescent colored Victorian that looks splendid in San Franciscowill seem wildly out of place in more conservative neighborhoods. Even if you are opting for a more subtle scheme, you’ll want to make sure that your colors are compatible with the houses next door.

Existing Colors
Your house is your canvas, but it is not blank. Some colors are already established. What color is your roof? Is there mortar or other siding that will not be painted? Will doors and railings remain their existing colors? New paint does not need to match existing colors, but it should harmonize.

Interior Colors
It may seem comical to paint entire house based on the pattern of a pillow case, but this approach does make sense. The color of your furnishings will guide you in the selection of your interior paint colors, and your interior paint colors will influence the colors you use outside. Once again, your goal is to harmonize.

Accents
Depending on the size and complexity of your home, you may be choosing two, three or as many as six colors. In addition to the color you select for siding, you’ll want to select accent colors for trim and details such as shutters, moldings and columns. This can be tricky, because too many colors will overwhelm your house and too few will make it seem two dimensional.

Darks and Lights
Light colors will make your house seem larger. Dark siding or dark bands of trim will make your house seem smaller, but will draw more attention to details. Darker shades are best for accenting recesses, while lighter tones will highlight details which project from the wall surface. On traditional Victorian homes, the darkest paint is often used for the window sashes.

Harmony and Contrast
Contrasting colors will draw attention to architectural details. But, extreme contrasts will clash and actually detract from details. To be safe, consider staying within a single color family. For some accents, try using a darker or lighter shade instead of a different color.

Balance
A burst of a single color on just one part of your home may give it a lopsided appearance. Strive to balance colors over the entire building.

Durability
The more intense a color, the more likely it is to fade. After a few years, vivid blues and deep reds will seem more subdued. Dark colors also pose more maintenance problems. Dark colors absorb heat and suffer more moisture problems than lighter shades. And because dark paint fades, it’s difficult to touch up.

Sheen
You thought you only had to pick colors? Sorry! In addition, you’ll also need to decide on the sheen of your paint — glossy, semi-gloss or flat. The glossier the surface, the more likely it is to show imperfections, brush strokes and touch up marks. On the other hand, glossy surfaces are easier to clean. Many homeowners opt to use flat paint for walls and semi-gloss or glossy paint for columns, railings and window sashes.

Color Deceptions
Color swatches look very different when they are brought out of the store and viewed in natural sunlight. Also, colors appear lighter on large surfaces than they do on small samples. It’s best to test your selected color in one area before buying gallons of paint.
How to select exterior color

  • When selecting exterior paint colors, take the fixed colors into account (like the roof, brick, stonework or any stained wood), and make sure all the colors look good together.
  • Light colors will make a small house seem larger, and dark colors will make a large house seem smaller.
  • A large, boxy house can be broken up by using a trim color that contrasts the body color.
  • A small house will appear larger if the trim is painted the same color as the body of the house.
  • Light colors will help keep a home cooler in warmer climates, because they absorb less heat. Dark colors will help keep a home warmer in cooler climates, because they absorb more heat.
  • Because light colored paint films absorb less heat, they will generally last longer than darker colored paint films.
  • Some communities have restrictions on what colors can be used on house exteriors, so check this out before you make your choice.

How to select interior color

  • Light colors will help lighten a dark or poorly-lighted room, and provide a psychological lift. Light colors also make walls and ceilings appear to be further away, and can be used to make small rooms appear larger and more open.
  • Dark colors can give a room a dramatic look, and create a sense of intimacy. They can also make walls and ceilings appear to be closer, and can be used to make a large room appear smaller and more cozy.
  • Bright, vibrant colors will give the room a cheerful feel, and a sense of excitement.
  • Reds, yellows and oranges are warm colors. When these colors are used in a room, they make the walls appear closer, creating the illusion of a smaller room.
  • Violets, blues and greens are cool colors. When these colors are used in a room, they make the walls appear farther away, creating the illusion of a larger room.
  • Tans, greys, and off-whites tend not to attract attention, and can be used to create a restful, relaxing atmosphere. They are also easier to coordinate with other colors in the room.
  • For long, narrow rooms, paint the shorter walls a darker color. This will make these walls appear closer together, so the room will seem less like a tunnel.
  • For square rooms, paint one wall a different color, preferably the wall first seen when entering the room. This will give the room a more dramatic look and make it seem less ‘boxy’.

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